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It is on this ground that a portion of the people desire to have the Constitution so amended that the government under it will become a Christian government. The character of the amendment which has been suggested for this purpose, will be considered in the next article.
It is the opinion of a portion of the American people that our National Constitution ought to be so amended as to establish “a Christian government.” The amendment proposed for this purpose, if adopted, would make the preamble read as follows:
“We, the people of the United States, acknowledging Almighty God as the source of all authority and power in civil government, the Lord Jesus Christ as the ruler among the nations, and his revealed will as of supreme authority, in order to constitute a Christian government, to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish the following Constitution for the United States of America.”
The words in italics are the ones which the advocates of a religious amendment to the Constitu
tion desire to insert in its preamble. The object is to make the government" a Christian government," and the method of doing it is to assert these three propositions : 1. That God is the source of all authority and power in civil government.
2. That the Lord Jesus Christ is the ruler among the nations. 3. That his revealed will is of supreme authority.
It is undoubtedly true that neither the Constitution nor the Government is now Christian in the sense contemplated by this amendment.
It is, however, true that the Constitution establishes Christian government" in the sense of providing for those great moral ends that refer to the present welfare and happiness of society. Unity among the people, justice, tranquillity, the common defense, the general welfare, and the blessings of liberty are enumerated as ends to be attained.
These, surely, are not anti-Christian ends ; and it is not straining the import of the term to say that they are Christian, considered with reference to that department of Christianity which relates to the interests and duties of time. In this sense the Constitution already provides for “a Christian government.”
Let us then see in what further sense the Constitution would establish “a Christian government' if the preamble were amended in the manner proposed. What would be the legal effect? In answering this question, it is important to remember that the preamble to the Constitution is simply an title.
enacting clause, analogous to the title of a legislative act; and that in itself considered, it makes no grants of power, imposes no restraints, and contains no provision for the organization and administration of a government.
Except in connection with what follows in the several articles of the Constitution, it is as meaningless and powerless as would be a legislative act if the whole of it consisted in its
The preamble, for example, declares the establishment of justice to be one of the ends sought, yet this mere statement would be utterly inoperative if the Constitution, in the legislative, cxecutive, and judicial grants of power to the General Government, contained no provisions for the attainment of the end. The same would be true of all the other objects specified in the preamble, if divorced from those provisions which are designed and adapted to secure them. Justice Story, in his "Commentaries on the Constitution " (section 462), says:
“And here we must guard ourselves against an error which is too often allowed to creep into discussions upon this subject. The preamble never can be resorted to to enlarge the power confided to the General Government or any of its departments. It cannot confer any power per se; it can never amount by implication to an enlargement of any power expressly given. It can never be the legitimate source of any implied power when otherwise withdrawn from the Constitution."
It, hence, follows that, if the preamble were amended as proposed, not the slightest practical change would be made in the Constitution itself or in the character of the Government. The added words would be in the preamble ; but the Government would be no more Christian ” than it is without them. It would still be true that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States ; ” that “ Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;" and that "the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution nor prohibited by it to the States are reserved to the States respectively or to the people." These provisions would remain in the body of the Constitution; and unless we adopt the false doctrine that the preamble is itself a grant of powers to the General Government the words proposed to be added to it would be legally a dead letter. The Constitution is not constructed to give any effect to such words or the ideas which they convey. There is nothing in it corresponding to them or that furnishes any method or legal machinery for their application. In this sense they would be perfectly useless.
The proper mode of making the Government "a Christian government” according to the model proposed is to adopt an amendment that would substantially read as follows:
SECTION 1. It is hereby declared that God is
the source of all authority and power in civil government, that the Lord Jesus Christ is the ruler among the nations, and that his revealed will is of supreme authority.
SECTION 2. Congress shall have power, by appropriate legislation, to enforce the provisions of this article.
This, which might be called the Sixteenth Amendment, would certainly gain the end proposed on the basis of the three religious doctrines affirmed. But, in securing the end, it would fundamentally change the whole theory of the Constitution in regard to religion and, in the powers of Congress, establish a complete religious despotism. The doctrines, being thus constitutionally affirmed and thus accompanied with an enforcing power in Congress, would " constitute a Christian government” in a sense that might well fill the country with alarm. If, however, these doctrines were simply in the preamble, dissevered from any enforcing power, they would have no more legal significance than if they were found in a treatise on theology.
Moreover, if these propositions were added to the preamble, and all the other parts of the Constitution were left uchanged, there would be no authoritative method of determining their meaning, or in what sense they would make the Government "a Christian government.” Congress could not legislatively express any opinion on the subject, since it would have no power of legislation in ref